Halting the spread and recurrence of cancer

Suspect proteins and migrating cells

Hannah Mak

The most lethal aspect of tumour cells is their ability to travel in the bloodstream to other sites and hijack healthy tissues to their own ends. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Foundation fellow Hannah Mak is targeting ezrin, a protein overproduced by invasive breast cancers. Ezrin co-operates with another protein, Src kinase, to increase cells’ ability to move and invade. Understanding the role of these proteins may allow doctors to predict which cancers will recur and spread, and also lead to better treatments for metastasis.

Also at Queen’s, fellow Crista Thompson is studying the regulation of BRCA1, one of the familial breast cancer genes responsible for inherited breast tumours but also involved in sporadic breast metabolism and the differentiation of immature precursor cells, called stem cells, into specialized breast cells — a process controlled by BRCA1. When things go wrong with these stem cells, they become malignant and are thought to drive both the growth of tumours and the development of metastasis. By understanding how their metabolism changes, Thompson hopes one day to be able to target the elimination of these cancer stem cells and prevent metastases.”

Hon Leong

“Using high-resolution imaging called spinning-disk confocal microscopy, Foundation fellow Hon Leong, PhD, is studying how individual breast cancer cells manage to squeeze themselves out of blood vessels and invade nearby tissues such as liver and lung. The goal of his research at the London Regional Cancer Centre is to find drugs that will block two proteins that help cancer cells do this, cortactin and Src kinase.